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April 2009

Facing traffic and pollution, Philippines city invests in bicycles

Chris Pablo's picture

During the Martial Law years in the Philippines (1970s to early 1980s), there was a story widely shared (discreetly) about a popular TV variety show host who was made to ride the bicycle all day in a military camp. According to accounts, he apparently displeased the rulers at the time for making a quip about the government's running slogan that goes, "sa ika-uunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan."Loosely translated, it means, "for the country to progress, discipline is what is needed."

What the TV host jokingly proclaimed was – "sa ika-uunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan" ("what the country needs for progress is the bicycle"). True or not, the story fascinates me to this day. First, because some people just can't take a good joke. More importantly, because I thought the TV host must be a real visionary! He may have foreseen the traffic and pollution conditions some 15 years in the future and the need for cheaper alternatives for mobility.

Using social media to do good

James I Davison's picture

I came across a small, but interesting online effort to raise donations for an organization that works to improve child literacy in Laos. Called Library for Laos, the effort aims to raise $5,000 by May 1– just five days after it started. The money raised is intended to go to Big Brother Mouse, a neat, Laos-based project that publishes, teaches and distributes books to children in a country they say desperately needs it.

It's a nice concept for a good cause, but what sticks out to me are the coordinators' clear attempts to use social media to spread the word about their effort. On their website, they bank on the ease of PayPal for donating money and the viral nature of social media: "How many people follow you on Twitter? How many friends do you have on Facebook? Let's see how valuable they are!" It's early to tell if they're succeeding. After the first day, they had apparently raised $500 dollars.

Either way, the endeavor highlights how social sites like Facebook, which permeates everyday life for many of us, can serve the world's poor. For example, you have the option to join various "causes" on Facebook. And on Twitter, information can spread like wildfire through retweets (rebroadcasting content to your own set of followers). What do you think? Would you ask your online friends and/or followers to donate money to a good cause?

(Found via: Escape the Cube). Image credit: rustystewart at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Mongolia: tough decisions about the world's oldest nature reserve

Tony Whitten's picture

Bogd Khan Uul Strictly Protected Area (SPA) (41,651 ha) is located on the edge of Mongolia's capital city, Ulaanbaatar, and dominates the views to the south. It is the oldest continuously protected area in Mongolia and possibly the world, being first established in 1778. Its establishment preceded by almost 100 years that of Yellowstone National Park in the United States. There is evidence the area held informal protective status as early as the 12th century. Bogd Khan Uul holds significant historical and cultural importance (pdf) for the people of Mongolia. In 1995, Bogd Khan Uul was formally designated a 'Strictly Protected Area' in accordance with current Mongolian law. Bogd Khan Uul was further recognized for its ecological importance when it was awarded UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status in 1997.

Hover over "Notes" for photo information.

So, if one were going to undertake a conservation project focusing on forests in the central part of Mongolia, one would reckon on including it, right? Wrong.

Indonesia's $100 billion budget: Is debt an issue?

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

I have received many encouraging responses to my first blog. Thank you. This time, let's look at Indonesia's budget. Last year, Indonesia's budget reached the magical threshold of US$100 billion.

10 (+1) tips for finding a job in development

James I Davison's picture

Jobs aren't easy to come by these days, no matter where you live. The ongoing global downturn is making finding employment even more of a challenge, and in the middle of a job hunt, any advice is usually welcome. Which makes this recent post by political science professor Chris Blattman timely. He highlights development blogger Alanna Shaikh's five tips for finding an international development job – and adds a few of his own (see the tips after the jump).

Watch how the world has changed through animated bubbles

James I Davison's picture

I was never too great with numbers or math. I guess you could call me a visual learner. Which is why I was intrigued after exploring Gapminder.org. The non-profit organization behind the website says it's dedicated to "unveiling the beauty of statistics." They attempt to do this with impressively interactive and animated graphs.

Making the world a better place, one web search at a time

James I Davison's picture

We've already written about sites that let you help others while going about the mundane tasks you already do. And there's the FreeRice.com game, which lets you donate food by playing an Internet word game. Combining both concepts, there's now Hoongle.org: a modified Google search engine that donates 20 grains of rice for every web search done through the site.

Since searches are routed through Google, it's the same search results most people are already getting. The difference is this site takes revenue from referrals to Google and donates the income to the United Nations World Food Program's "Fill the Cup" campaign. The New York Times' Bits blog interviewed the site's creators, university students in Virginia who say they have already raised enough money to donate 4,000 meals, or 8.5 million grains of rice. The Hoongle FAQ page suggests you add them as your homepage or use their web browser plug-in. All in all, an easy way to make a small, yet perhaps meaningful difference.

It's also worth noting that the site seems to be currently down with "technical difficulties". Searches still work, since they are run through Google, but the rice donations have stopped for now.

(Hat tip: Poverty News Blog)

UPDATE: It seems the Hoongle project was short-lived. Shortly after we posted this, the people behind Hoongle.org put up the following message on their homepage: "Unfortunately, we have run into unexpected issues that will prevent the site from functioning as intended. Because of this, the site has grown beyond our means as college students. As a result, we have decided to go offline." No word on what happened or whether they will ever try to start up the site again, but you can enter your email address into a field on their homepage for future updates.

API allows new ways to access World Bank data

James I Davison's picture

Certain online circles have been buzzing about last week's quiet release of the World Bank's new open API, or application programming interface, which gives open access to vast amounts of the Bank's economic data that date back more than 50 years. The news was first announced by the third-party creator of the API, and has been widely discussed on other blogs and Twitter.

The goal of the API is to make it simpler for third-party programmers to create applications that make the World Bank's economic data globally accessible and easy to understand.

I'll leave the specifics of what an API is and how they work to the others, but a quick example is the thousands of games and other iPhone applications (advertised by Apple as "apps") that have been created from its API. Apple couldn't have developed so many apps on its own and instead made it easier for others to create them.

Other than the fact that the API was re-launched, this news won't mean much to non-computer programmers like me ... at least at first. That is, most of us won't be able to see the direct results of the API until programmers and developers start to create mashups, widgets and other applications that make it easy for the rest of us to access, understand and visualize the data.

New and innovative uses of the World Bank's valuable data will hopefully be an eventual result of the API. Irakli Nadareishvili, who was on the team that created the API for the Bank, writes on Phase2's blog, "What you can do with actual code and integration with other tools is probably only limited by imagination."

Regional Finance Roundup – A look at Thailand after the ASEAN summit cancellation; updates on China, Singapore and Mongolia

James Seward's picture

In terms of big newsworthy events in Asia, one of the biggest has to be the anti-government protests in Thailand. A relatively small number of protesters dramatically caused the cancellation of an ASEAN+3 meeting held in Pattaya this past weekend where 10 regional heads of state were evacuated. The World Bank President, as well as the head of the IMF and UN, were turned around at the airport in Bangkok. Although the protests around the country have effectively ended after martial law was declared and two protesters died, the damage of this may be longer-lasting. Although a discussion of the politics would be interesting, let's concentrate on the finance-related issues.

Deforestation in Sumatra, Indonesia – mapping the "thwacking"

Tony Whitten's picture

Click map to enlarge.
Looking at the new maps of Sumatra's forests, the Once-ler in Dr Seuss' The Lorax would not conclude that we "cared a whole awful lot," but rather that we were cutting them down as fast as we please.

It's nearly 35 years since I first flew over Sumatra, an island in western Indonesia. Looking out of the plane window, the dark green forests stretched to the horizon. Even if there weren't any Truffula trees, there were many herds of elephants, families of tigers, groups of monkeys and many thousands of lone orangutans calling and moving around the forest, hardly ever crossing paths with humans. Then came the organized loggers, the transmigration settlements, and the plantations – rubber, oil palm and industrial timber.

About half Sumatra's forests have been lost since 1985. Last year, a WWF report (pdf) found that forest cover in Riau province, central Sumatra, has fallen from 78% to 25% in 25 years.

Cheerful colors reflect new hope for earthquake victims in Indonesia

Nia Sarinastiti's picture
The 2006 earthquake killed Tito Judi's adopted son and destroyed his house. He feels the cheerful colors of his new home help to lift his spirits.

On an early morning in 2006, an earthquake struck Special Province of Yogyakarta and Central Java in Indonesia. The place, known for its heritage, culture, scenery and humble life of its people, was devastated. The 6.2 Ricther Scale quake killed about 5,700 people and left more than 150,000 families homeless and 50,000 injured. But given the many life hardships that most of people have had to face since losing their homes and loved ones from the disaster, beneficiaries of the Java Reconstruction Fund (JRF) – managed by the World Bank – seem to have beaten the odds and have since long moved on with their lives.

What I found most interesting during my visits to the locations is the sense of style and creativity of the house owners.  Especially in the villages of Bantul, Yogyakarta – the hardest struck area – people can easily identify houses that were funded by JRF through the outstandingly colored, newly constructed houses, painted in cheerful tints of pink, yellow, green, blue, red, or somewhere in between.  How it all started was never revealed, but it seems everyone wanted to get away from the conservative colors of white, crème and grey.

Remittances and the Philippines' economy: the elephant in the room

Eric Le Borgne's picture

In the World Bank's latest semi-annual economic update for the East Asia and Pacific region, titled "Battling the Forces of Global Recession" and released today, we mentioned the Philippine economy's resilience, both in absolute and relative terms.

Seeing the financial crisis: What might contraction look like in Cambodia?

Stéphane Guimbert's picture

Declining revenue of tuk-tuk drivers in Cambodia shows even the informal sector isn't insulated.
Growth forecasts in Cambodia are generating a fair bit of confusion. Many simply question whether it is possible for GDP growth to be lower in 2009 than in the past 15 years.

The World Bank today launches its projection of a 1 percent contraction of the Cambodian economy. This is based on an analysis of available statistics and feedback from a range of economic actors. Yet, to most of my Cambodian friends, it remains hard to conceive.

It is true that "seeing" such a contraction will be difficult. Basically, what it means is that economic activity in 2009 will be pretty much the same as in 2008. So the fact that we continue to have traffic jams in Phnom Penh, see tourists at the Royal Palace, and hear construction machines in many residential areas is consistent with such a projection. What will change, though, is that incomes will not increase this year as fast as past years and it will also become more difficult for the 250,000 young people leaving school each year to find their first job. What also will be different is that with no growth in aggregate, there will be a proportion of those with a livelihood at the end of the year worse than at the beginning.

East Asian and Pacific countries look to China for possible recovery, says World Bank report

James I Davison's picture

Despite a surge in joblessness and a regional drop of the forecasted GDP growth to 5.3 percent expected in 2009, developing East Asian and Pacific countries may be able to look to China for hope during the current global economic slowdown. That's according to the World Bank's April 2009 edition of the East Asia & Pacific Update, which was released today.

The latest half-yearly assessment of the region's economic health, aptly titled "Battling the Forces of Global Recession", says there have already been signs of China's economy bottoming out by mid-2009. China's possible subsequent recovery in 2010, concludes the report, could contribute to the entire region's stabilization, and perhaps recovery.

There are a number of ways to review the findings of the report on the World Bank's website. Head over to worldbank.org/eapupdate to view specific chapters or download the full report. For an intimate view of people who are being affected by the ongoing financial crisis in East Asian and Pacific countries – including Cambodia, Thailand, Mongolia and the Philippines – check out "Faces of the Crisis". You can also view hi-res graphs from the report here.

Also, check back here in the next day or so for blog posts written by World Bank economists based in Cambodia and Lao PDR.

UPDATE: For country-specific expert perspectives on the new World Bank repot, check out blog posts from World Bank economists based in Cambodia and Laos. Stéphane Guimbert considers what contraction might look like in Cambodia. And Katia Vostroknutova takes a look at Laos' economy, which is less affected by crisis, but faces the increasing challenge of sustaining growth during the crisis.

Regional roundup: Finance in East Asia – April 3

James Seward's picture

I'm sorry it has been a while since the last East Asia & Pacific regional roundup. A lot has happened, so let's get right to it. As usual, the downward trends continue across the region.

Mongolian government takes action to support small businesses (or Inspections Gone Wild)

David Lawrence's picture

 

Restaurants in Mongolia can face fines for not having the right number of forks.
Mongolia's done a good job in reforming its business environment since the collapse of communism in the early 1990s. In Doing Business 2009, the country ranked 58th out of 181 economies and outperformed its neighbors, Russia and China, by significant margins. Well done. But that doesn't mean that things are easy for small businesses here. The overall business environment is a serious drag on Mongolia's development prospects, and the situation keeps getting worse as the financial crisis sinks its claws into the economy.

One area fully in Government control is business inspections. This is an important function: inspections protect the health and safety of the general public. But when inspections run wild, they can become a major burden to businesses, especially small ones. Inspections can impose large costs on businesses in terms of time and money, encourage firms to bribe their way out of violations, and even encourage entrepreneurs to operate in the shadows. That means less tax revenue and potentially dangerous products and services being offered to the public.

Is this a problem in Mongolia? Absolutely.